Robert Gnaizda, a lawyer whose deft powers of persuasion in defending the civil and financial rights of the poor and minority teams usually rendered messy and expensive lawsuits in opposition to their adversaries a useless final resort, died on July 11 in San Francisco. He was 83.
The trigger was listed as a coronary heart assault. His son Matthew mentioned he had been in declining well being for a while.
Mr. Gnaizda (pronounced guh-NAYJH-duh) risked his life gathering proof within the South within the 1960s to assist battle the intimidation that stored Black residents from registering and voting. He was additionally an advocate for farm staff and the agricultural poor, fought discrimination in hiring by police and hearth departments, and efficiently challenged banks that victimized Black and Hispanic debtors.
“Bob Gnaizda was, for my part, essentially the most imaginative, inventive and consequential public curiosity lawyer of his technology in america,” mentioned J. Anthony Kline, presiding justice of the California Courtroom of Enchantment in San Francisco, who, with Mr. Gnaizda and two different legal professionals, fashioned a pioneering public curiosity regulation agency in California in 1971.
The marginalized plaintiffs he represented “have been dedicated to him as a result of he integrated them in strategic choice making and ensured they acquired credit score for victories,” Justice Kline mentioned by e mail, and “the respect he had from a lot of his adversaries enabled him to barter settlements that grew to become established progressive norms with out the necessity to have interaction in costly and time-consuming litigation.”
Robert Leslie Gnaizda was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 6, 1936, to Sandra (Ackerman) Gnaizda, the daughter of Russian and Polish immigrants, who ran a industrial actual property enterprise, and Samuel Gnaizda, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, who grew to become a pharmacist. He was raised within the Brownsville part, then a gritty Jewish enclave, the place he defended susceptible buddies in opposition to neighborhood bullies and biked to Ebbets Subject to cheer on Jackie Robinson.
“Dodger followers had a repute for being impolite and rowdy,” his son Matt mentioned. “However 10-year-old Bob noticed that the Black followers on the stadium have been extraordinarily well mannered, effectively behaved and effectively dressed — not like the opposite followers. And this made him start to query the widespread stereotypes.”
As a young person he additionally labored in a job coaching program for Black kids, Matt Gnaizda mentioned. He added: “These experiences — plus the discrimination he felt as a Jew — led him to see that there was injustice on the earth. And he wished to do one thing about it.”
After graduating from Stuyvesant Excessive College in Manhattan, Mr. Gnaizda attended Columbia College, the place he was so struck that his classmates have been virtually all white and male that he was prompted to put in writing an article for the Columbia Each day Spectator, the scholar,
“I requested two questions: One associated to girls, the opposite associated to Black college students,” he mentioned in an interview with Columbia Faculty At this time, an alumni publication, in 2018. “I puzzled why a faculty on the fringe of Harlem had just one Black scholar per undergraduate class. And since my very own mom was excellent at all the pieces she did, I puzzled why we didn’t have any girls. However the paper wouldn’t print it; they thought it was too inflammatory.”
Mr. Gnaizda graduated from Columbia in 1957. He thought-about learning medication however determined to use to regulation college at Harvard and Yale and grow to be a lawyer if he was admitted by both. He was accepted by each and selected Yale. He earned his regulation diploma in 1960.
Requested within the 2018 interview what drove him to desert company regulation when he was 28 to pursue a social justice agenda, he replied facetiously: “I feel boredom. I used to be a tax lawyer, and the work didn’t curiosity me a lot. I made a decision to go to Mississippi in early 1965, and there I noticed that I had some pure abilities.”
By cultivating native white civic leaders in conversations that dealt as a lot with baseball as with voting, he was capable of collect sufficient proof throughout a public listening to on the disenfranchisement of Black folks in Clay County, Miss., to assist propel passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Mr. Gnaizda lived in San Francisco. Along with his son Matthew, he’s survived by his spouse, Claudia Viek; one other son, Joshua; and a granddaughter. His first marriage led to divorce, as did his second, to Ellen Eatough. (Each his sons are from that marriage.)
He based California Rural Authorized Help in 1966 and, 5 years later, Public Advocates, a agency that defended underdogs, with Justice Kline, Sid Wolinsky and Peter Sitkin. He additionally helped discovered the Greenlining Institute in 1993 to discourage monetary establishments from discriminating in opposition to Black and Hispanic residence patrons. He was later common counsel for the Nationwide Asian American Coalition and the Nationwide Range Coalition.
By these and different organizations, Mr. Gnaizda accused the Census Bureau of undercounting Hispanic residents in 1970 and pressured the San Francisco Police Division to rent extra minority recruits within the 1970s.
His penchant for representing victims of bullying led him into some uncommon circumstances. There have been, for instance, the 2 7-year-olds in California who sued Pacific Bell Phone in 1985 for failing to tell them that they might incur a 50-cent cost each time they dialed a Santa Claus line. (He additionally based a Giraffe Appreciation Society whose administrators, all youngsters, paid tribute to the ruminants “who don’t do any hurt and who stick their necks out.”)
What distinguished Mr. Gnaizda as a zealous public curiosity lawyer, his son Matt mentioned, was that he “by no means noticed the opposite facet as evil; he noticed them as individuals who he disagreed with on sure points, however could possibly be satisfied to vary their habits.”
Mr. Gnaizda agreed that a lot of his lawsuits have been profitable as a result of he didn’t power his opponents right into a nook. “They have been simply on a unique facet, and once they misplaced, they might often maintain their phrase,” he mentioned within the Columbia Faculty At this time interview
Rebecca Kee, who labored with Mr. Gnaizda on the Nationwide Range Coalition, put it this fashion: “Bob will sue you, and in some way you’ll nonetheless like him.”